Saturday, April 21, 2007

Sylvia Warsh's "Season Of Iron"

Sylvia Maultash Warsh was born in Stuttgart, Germany, and immigrated to Canada when she was four years old. Her parents were both born in Krakow and survived the Holocaust, though much of the family perished. Sylvia grew up listening to her mother's stories about how she fled from the Nazis who had overrun Poland, then how she managed to survive the brutality of the labour camps. These stories sparked an interest in history, especially of the war, that has influenced Sylvia's fiction.

Her husband, a psychiatrist, is her consultant for any medical information she requires for her physician-protagonist, Rebecca Temple.

Here Warsh develops some ideas about the casting for film adaptations of her three novels featuring Dr. Rebecca Temple:
As much as I fantasize about a movie from one of my Dr. Rebecca Temple books, the reality is that they would be very expensive to translate into film. They’re not only set in 1979 Toronto, they tend to include stories from other historical eras, particularly the 2nd World War. In my latest, Season of Iron, the book follows two stories — Rebecca in 1979, and Frederika Eisenbaum in 1930s Berlin during the Nazi era. That’s not as complicated (read expensive to produce) as my second book, Find Me Again which won an Edgar. In it, Rebecca finds an historical manuscript about Catherine the Great that sweeps back to 18th century London, Warsaw, and St. Petersburg. Not that it would be impossible to do. They filmed War and Peace, right?

I always try to have someone real in mind when I write a character. I need to hear them speak in my head. When I first thought of Rebecca in the early 1990s, I pictured Debra Winger, who made her name in sexy but substantial roles. I was more interested in substantial — though Rebecca is an attractive brunette, she’s a dedicated doctor in mourning for her late husband. In my first book, To Die in Spring, Nesha Malkevich is a damaged Holocaust survivor. I wrote about him with Dustin Hoffman in mind, a combination of Babe in Marathon Man and Ratzo Rizo in Midnight Cowboy. Okay, maybe that’s too hard to picture. Try this — a cocky middle-aged man in a black leather jacket who could’ve been an Olympic swimmer. Except that he can’t get out of his mind the picture of his family rounded up by the Nazis when he was a boy. One of the perks of books is that people in them don’t age; unfortunately actors do. Since Rebecca is in her mid-thirties and Nesha is late forties, the ship with Debra Winger and Dustin Hoffman has sailed.

I’ve thought of one way producers could save money in Find Me Again: the same actor who plays Rebecca could play Catherine the Great. That would be very interesting. Something like the The French Lieutenant’s Woman, only Rebecca is reading a manuscript about Catherine, unlike Meryl Streep who played an actor in an historical film. My wish list actor for Rebecca is Rachel Weisz. Julianna Margulies would be a possibility, though I haven’t seen her in much lately. It would be a great role for a woman. There are so few decent roles out there.

In Season of Iron, one of my characters is a Nazi doctor. I wanted to make him human so I used Ciarán Hinds as my model. Hinds is a large handsome man who is adept at playing characters with many sides. My creation came alive when I put him in the role.

My first book, To Die in Spring, would be most practical to turn into film. The scenes that flip back to an Argentinean prison, as well as World War Two, could be done on a set. And a fair bit takes place in Kensington Market, an eminently filmable area in Toronto where fruit stands vie with Chinese goods on the sidewalk in organized chaos. Kensington Market could play itself.

The book I’m working on now, (not a sequel, not even a mystery) has more possibilities for film, with its beautiful but bitchy grad student protagonist. Though it also takes place in the 1970s, it’s set a few hours north of Toronto in Midland, a small town whose main street hasn’t changed appreciably in thirty years. I say that with affection.
Visit Sylvia Warsh's website and read excerpts from all three novels.

--Marshal Zeringue